Italy doesn't buy Iraq shooting explanation

Italian officials wonder why the U.S. denied them access to the case's most important piece of evidence.

By Eric Boehlert
Published May 3, 2005 3:51PM (EDT)

Claiming U.S. soldiers who manned a Baghdad checkpoint acted with "little control," Italian officials sharply disagreed with the Pentagon's findings surrounding the shooting death of an Italian intelligence agent in March. Having just secured the release of a kidnapped Italian journalist, who had been held by Iraqi insurgents, the translator, Nicola Calipari, and a reporter were driving toward the Baghdad airport when U.S. troops opened fire on the car, riddling it with bullets. The journalist, Giuliana Sgrena, was wounded.

The March 4 killing ignited a torrent of criticism in Italy, putting its conservative prime minister, and Bush ally, Silvio Berlusconi in awkward position. (Most Italians opposed the war in Iraq and opposed sending Italian troops.) To help ease the tension, the United States agreed to a joint investigation with Italian officials into the shooting. It turns out the joint investigation could not come to a joint conclusion.

On Saturday the Pentagon released its findings, which suggested the Italians were speeding at the time of being gunned down, that U.S. soldiers acted properly and that they would not face disciplinary hearings. It seems U.S. and Italian investigators agreed on almost nothing.

"The Italian report countered U.S. findings that the incident grew in part from the failure of Italian officials to coordinate with American forces that the car would be coming through. It said U.S. authorities had a basic understanding of Calipari's mission, but it acknowledged they were unaware of his movements and details of his activity," reported the Washington Post. "In any case, the report said it was neither necessary nor practical to notify U.S. military officials of movement on the well-traveled highway.

"The U.S. troops failed to put up warning signs at a position that was meant to keep traffic from entering the road from an on-ramp," the report said. A duty log of the unit involved disappeared shortly after the incident, the Italians added. The Italian report dismissed U.S. claims that the car was speeding as it approached the checkpoint, saying that the conclusion was based on soldiers' testimony, not an investigation of the scene."

As for the most important piece of evidence in re-creating the event -- the bullet-ridden Toyota Corolla -- Italian officials were denied access to the vehicle. "That made it impossible to technically reconstruct the event, to determine the exact position of the vehicles and measure the distances, and to obtain precise data defining the precise trajectory of the bullets, the speed of the car and the stopping distance," the Italians concluded.

Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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